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Social Security is issue in House race

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- In Connecticut's 5th Congressional District, where more than one-fourth of residents rely on Social Security, Rep. Elizabeth Esty has moved the issue sensitive to seniors close to the top of her many disputes with Republican challenger Mark Greenberg.


Esty, seeking a second term, is raising issues such as economic development, gun ownership and transportation. But her TV ads have focused on Social Security, promising unyielding support while insisting Greenberg would undermine it.


"Mark Greenberg in his own words has said repeatedly he considers the system a failure," Esty said in a debate with Greenberg, who responded that he's defending himself against "lies" and believes ways to preserve the program should be debated.


Esty said in an interview that 125,000 of the district's 475,000 residents - about 26 percent - receive Social Security benefits. She said she's voted against cuts in Social Security, including a proposal backed by President Barack Obama to calculate inflation more conservatively, known as "chained CPI" that would result in smaller cost-of-living increases in Social Security.


Many Democrats in Congress and advocates for seniors dislike the chained CPI, opting instead for a more generous cost-of-living increase they say more accurately reflects price increases faced by older Americans.


To Greenberg, the higher proportion of senior citizens is a sign of a lack of jobs and few opportunities for young people to remain. His campaign message, he said, is an "old refrain: jobs and the economy, the inability of young people to stay in Connecticut."


Estimates show that in 2033, the Social Security fund will no longer pay out 100 percent to beneficiaries and drop to 75 percent of promised benefits unless Congress and the president act.


Esty and Greenberg may agree on a possible solution to ensuring Social Security doesn't run out of money by raising a limit on taxed income to bring in more revenue. The policy, known as lifting the cap, would tax the wealthy who do not pay Social Security tax at certain levels at the same rate as middle-income workers.


"I think that is a much fairer way to do it," Esty said.


Greenberg, who has advocated for gradually raising the retirement age for Social Security eligibility to 70, said he will listen to proposals to lift the cap.


"The bottom line is I'm willing to discuss an increase in the cap as well as an extension from 67 to 70," he said.


Other issues in the race focus on the slow economic recovery and gun control in the district where 20 children and six educators were killed in their elementary school in December 2012.


Greenberg stresses gun safety and the need to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental health problems. Esty supports an expanded federal background check and closing loopholes allowing sales at gun shows intended to evade background checks.


Democrats may be optimistic about their prospects in the race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has canceled its television reservations in the district, instead reserving $500,000 for ads in Iowa for the last two weeks of the election there.


For Greenberg, the campaign is his first after failing before to win the Republican nomination.


"I'm in unchartered territory," he said. "Someone's got to do the dirty work."

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